How to Tell If Your Cat’s Teeth Are Hurting

How to Tell If Your Cat’s Teeth Are Hurting

Maintaining healthy teeth is obviously important for us, but the same is also true for our cats. Although we may not think about a cat’s dental health quite as often as ours — and attempting to brush their teeth can be its own battle — cats can develop their own dental issues, including abscessed teeth, gingivitis, or a painful condition called stomatitis, where the tissues of the mouth become inflamed.

The most common dental issues in cats

As the Cornell veterinary school notes, the most common teeth issues for cats are gingivitis, in which the gums become red and inflamed; periodontitis, a condition that develops from untreated gingivitis where the tissues that anchor the teeth get weakened and destroyed; or tooth resorption, where the tooth breaks down and is resorbed. An estimated 30 to 70% of cats show signs of tooth resorption, with it being the most common cause for them to lose a tooth.

Cats can also develop a painful condition called stomatitis, which often co-occurs with periodontitis and tooth resorption, where the tissues of mouth become inflamed, and start attacking the teeth. As Cheryl LaBall, a veterinarian for the ASPCA community medicine team, notes, we don’t know what causes stomatitis, but it’s thought to be associated with an altered immune system. The treatment for stomatitis is often full or partial tooth extraction, which may sound like an extreme measure, but tends to be an effective solution. “Cats generally do well following medically necessary extractions,” Ball said. This includes eating well and living a normal, pain-free life.

In addition to these diseases, “there are other causes of dental disease that are not always directly related to the problems originating in the mouth,” Ball said. “Overall health can have a direct effect on dental and oral health.” This can include mouth ulcers, which can be caused by a number of health conditions, including viruses and autoimmune diseases.

That’s why it’s so important to take your cat to regular check-ups to catch any potential health problem before it becomes a major issue. As Ball also cautions, a healthy diet isn’t always sufficient to prevent dental problems.

Signs your cat might be having teeth issues

With cats, it can be hard to pick up on signs of dental issues, as they’re not about to tell you that their mouth is hurting. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, some of the potential signs that your cat might need dental care include:

  • Bad breath
  • Broken or loose teeth
  • Extra teeth or retained baby teeth
  • Teeth that are discolored or covered in tartar
  • Abnormal chewing, drooling, or dropping food from the mouth
  • Reduced appetite or refusal to eat
  • Pain in or around the mouth
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Swelling in the areas surrounding the mouth

The AVMA also cautions that if your cat is having dental issues, they might be more irritable than usual, and also more likely to bite you.

How to prevent teeth issues

When it comes to preventing teeth issues in your cat, “prevention and regular care are key,” Ball said. The best method of prevention is brushing their teeth regularly, and taking them in for a yearly check up, where the vet will look for any signs of developing issues. (Of course, brushing your cat’s teeth will depend on whether or not they let you, as some are more amenable than others.) Ball also recommends yearly dental cleanings, where they will remove built up plaque and tartar, and then polish the teeth to prevent future buildup.


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